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Any Major Originals – Motown

September 19th, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of Tamla Motown. I needn’t riff on about the genius and influence of Berry Gordy’s label; for that you are well-advised to watch the recent, marvellous Showtime documentary. Most of Motown’s classic hits were original compositions; a few were versions of previously recorded in-house productions (though far fewer than one might expect); a handful were songs brought in from outside Hitsville — and one was, as we’ll see, brazenly stolen.

If you wish to mark the 60th anniversary by way of covers of Motown hits, Covered With Soul Vol. 17 and Vol. 19 might do the trick.

 

Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone / Smiling Faces Sometimes
In Motown’s happy family it was common that the same songs would be recorded by different artists. Often this involved The Temptations, who sometimes originated a hit for others, and other times had a hit with a song previously recorded by others. And sometimes, there was a straight swap, as it was between The Temptations and The Undisputed Truth.

The Undisputed Truth, who are now mostly remembered for their hit Smiling Faces Sometimes, recorded Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone as a single release in 1971. It did not perform spectacularly well, peaking at #63 in the US charts. A year later, songwriter Norman Whitfield gave the song to the Temptations when he produced their 1972 All Directions album, on which it appeared as a 12-minute workout. The shortened single version went on to top the US charts in 1973.

The song dated the death of the deplorable Papa to “the third of September”, which happened to be the date Temptations singer Dennis Edward’s father died. Edwards was allocated that line, leading him to suspect that Whitfield had written the line knowing of that particular detail. Whitfield denied that (as he well might), but nevertheless exploited Edward’s anger about it by having him sing the line in repeated takes until the singer sounded very irate indeed. For his troubles, the Temptations dismissed Whitfield as their producer.

The group would never record anything better than Whitfield’s epics. And when Whitfield left Motown, the Undisputed Truth followed him.

But still at Motown, The Undisputed Truth took their signature song, Smiling Faces Sometimes, from The Temptations, who released it as a 12-minute track in April 1971 on their Sky’s The Limit LP and later, in as final twist of irony, as a b-side of Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.

Released a month after The Temptations’ LP version, The Undisputed Truth enjoyed a US #3 hit with the song. The follow-up, Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone, flopped at #63. And then went to The Temptations…

 

War
While The Temptations and The Undisputed Truth scored hits with each others’ songs, Edwin Starr had a hit with a Temps song, War. The anti-Vietnam protest song appeared originally on the Temptations 1970 Psychedelic Shack album.

By popular request, Motown decided to release War as a single — but not by the Temptations, because the label did not want to associate its big stars with political causes.

Indeed, the Temptations themselves were apprehensive about offending some of their fans (though exactly why anybody who would dig the drug-friendly psychedelic grooves of early-’70s Temptations might be offended by an anti-war sentiment is a mystery). So Motown gave the song to a relative unknown who two years earlier had enjoyed his solitary hit.

Edwin Starr’s anthemic, fist-raising version was far more fierce and furious than that of The Temptations. Catching the zeitgeist, Starr’s War was a US #1 hit. And guess who appears on the backing track… The Undisputed Truth.

 

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me
There’s a link between the first recording of I’m Gonna Make You Love Me by Dee Dee Warwick in 1966 and the 1968 hit by Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Temptations: on the original, released on Mercury, Nickolas Ashford provided backing vocals; on the Motown cover, he was a co-producer.

The song was written by future Philly Soul legend Thom Bell and Jerry Ross, the patron of Kenny Gamble (whose sidekick Leon Huff received a writing credit for it on some releases). For Warwick it was a R&B #13 hit. Ross was so convinced of the song, he had it recorded by several other artists under his charge. Ashford and his wife Valerie Simpson did backing vocals on all of them.

But it was only in 1968 that I’m Gonna Make You Love Me dented the US pop charts, when Madeline Bell’s version, recorded in England after Dusty Springfield passed on it, took it to #26 in April that year (also on Mercury, incidentally).

A few weeks later the recordings for the Motown version began, being completed in stages over almost four months. The final product, essentially a duet of Diana Ross and Eddie Kendrick with Otis Williams joining the fun for the spoken interlude, was released in November 1968. It reached #2 on the Billboard pop charts.

 

You Are Everything / Stop Look Listen
Thom Bell also co-wrote You Are Everything, first a hit for The Stylistics before becoming a Motown staple in the version by Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye. In the US, it was a hit for The Stylistics (#9) while the Ross & Gaye recording wasn’t released as a single there; but in the UK the Motown version did the business, reaching #5 in 1974.

Follow-up Stop Look Listen (Listen To Your Heart), also a cover from a Thom Bell & Linda Creed composition for The Stylistics, reached only #25 in the UK, where the 1971 original had failed to dent the charts. The Motown version wasn’t released on single in the US, but it is probably the better-known version, not least thanks to its inclusion on soundtrack for Bridget Jones’s Diary.

 

Abraham, Martin And John
Another song that features here on strength of its performance in the UK is the idealistic Abraham, Martin And John, which in its folky original was a hit for erstwhile rock & roll idol Dion. Released soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr (the only one of the martyred trio who unconditionally and absolutely wanted to free a lot of people), it reached #4 in the US.

In the UK, Dion had enjoyed #10 and #11 hits in 1961/62 (with The Wanderer and Runaround Sue respectively), and nothing since. So when Marvin Gaye released his version of the lament for the trio of unseen friends in early 1970, Britain’s delayed zeitgeist propelled it to #9. It was Gaye’s last solo Top 10 hit there for seven years (Let’s Get It On reached #31!).

 

For Once In My Life
Ron Miller and Orlando Murden were staff writers for the Jobete publishing company which was owned by Motown. In 1966 they wrote For Once In My Life, but were still struggling with it.

Miller asked little-known singer Jean DuShon, signed to Chess Records but then performing in a nightclub, to work with him on the vocal arrangement. He was so impressed with DuShon’s interpretation that he had her record and release the record on Chess.

Alas, Chess didn’t promote the record (some say due to pressure by Motown boss Berry Gordy), and it flopped. Hearing that the songwriters were giving the song to a non-Motown artist, Gordy insisted that it be immediately recorded by an act on his label. The song was given to Barbara McNair (whose stint at Motown was brief and who never was a priority for Gordy), who might have recorded it before DuShon, though the latter’s version was the first to be released. McNair’s version is included as a bonus track.

Over the next few months the song was recorded by several non-Motown artists, including Tony Bennett, who had a minor hit with it, Carmen McCrae, Della Reese, Vicky Carr and Nancy Wilson. On Motown, which regularly produced the same songs by different artists, it was released in 1967 alone by The Temptations, Four Tops and Martha & The Vandellas.

On 15 October 1968, teenager Stevie Wonder gave it an exuberant, uptempo treatment. Gordy didn’t like Stevie’s versions and declined to release it. When, at the urging of Billie Jean Brown, the head of Motown”s Quality Control Department, it was released as a single in late 1968, it became a massive hit, peaking at #2 (topping the charts was another Motown hit Gordy had previously vetoed, Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine).

Ron Miller wrote other hits for Stevie Wonder: Heaven Help Us All, Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday (see below), and A Place In The Sun, as well as Diana Ross’ Touch Me In The Morning. But before Stevie had a hit with For Once In My Life, it was considered Tony Bennett’s song.

When Ella Fitzgerald introduced it on her 1968 Live in Berlin album (recorded before Stevie’s version was issued), she described it as Bennett’s song. A few years ago, Bennett and Wonder finally sang the For Once In My Life together, on the former’s album of duets. The pair took Grammies home for their efforts, and performed the song at the awards ceremony. Stevie dedicated it to his recently deceased mother, and Bennett… to his sponsors.

 

Someday We’ll Be Together
The Supremes’ sentimental farewell song with Diana Ross proved less than prescient (if we disregard the awkward performance of it on 1983’s Motown 25th anniversary show), and La Ross probably never thought that she “made a big mistake” by leaving.

The song was originally recorded in 1961 by the R&B duo Johnny & Jackie, in a Drifters-style arrangement. The Johnny half of the Detroit duo was Johnny Bristol, and Jackey was his singing and songwriting partner — and ex-air force compadre — Jackey Beavers. They co-wrote Someday We’ll Be Together with the great Harvey Fuqua, on whose Tri-Phi label the single appeared. It was not a big hit, and after several years of trying, Bristol and Beavers went their separate ways, with Jackey signing for Chess Records.

Bristol went on to become a noted producer on Motown, working with Fuqua on songs such as Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and David Ruffin’s My Whole World Ended.

Bristol had the distinction of producing the final singles by both The Supremes and The Miracles before their headliners departed. That means, of course, that Bristol produced the song which he had co-written and first recorded himself for Diana Ross and the Supremes.

The other Supremes didn’t actually appear on it (which makes the decision to play Some Day We’ll Be Together at Florence Ballard’s funeral seem quite odd). Bristol had intended the song for Junior Walker and the All Stars, for whom he had already written the hit What Does It Take (To Make You Love Me). He had laid down the arrangement and backing vocals, by Maxine and Julia Waters, when Gordy decided that this would be the song with which to transition Diana into her solo career. Probably because of the title, he issued it as a farewell song for Diana Ross and the Supremes, rather than as a solo debut for Ross.

The male voice on the song is Bristol’s. Not satisfied with Ross’ performance, he harmonised with her, ad libbing encouragements. The sound engineer accidentally captured these, and since it sounded good, it was decided to keep them in. Diana Ross & the Backing Singers’ single topped the US charts (perhaps fittingly, the last chart-topper of the ‘60s).

Johnny Bristol, who died in 2004, went on to have some success as a singer, most notably with the 1974 hit Hang On In There Baby. He also wrote and recorded the first version of the Osmonds’ hit Love Me For A Reason.

 

Come See About Me
The Supremes hit Come See About Me is one of those records where the earlier recording was released later (as we’ll see, there are a few others in this mix). In keeping with the methodology of this series, we go primarily by release date. And here, it seems, Nella Dodds narrowly scooped The Supremes.

Come See About Me was written by Motown’s hugely successful songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland, and The Supremes recorded it on 13 July 1964, backed by The Funk Brothers. Somehow the song had come into the hands of the people at Wand Records in New York, who had their singer Nella Dodds record it. While The Supremes were still riding high in the charts with Baby Love, their second chart-topper in a row, Wand put out Dodds’ version, a pleasant affair which nonetheless can’t compare to the exquisite vigour of the Supremes’ version.

Although Dodds recorded for a New York label, she was a pioneer of Philadelphia soul — Kenneth Gamble, future Philly soul supremo, and Jimmy Bishop, who would discover many Philly soul acts, appeared on Dodds’ Wand recordings.

Motown were alarmed when they learned that Dodds’ record had been issued, and rush-released The Supremes’ recording. Dodds’ version stalled at #74, and she would never have a breakthrough hit. For The Supremes, Come See About Me became the third in a golden run of five #1 hits.

 

Shop Around
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles covered themselves very soon after releasing the original of Shop Around, Motown’s first million-seller, in 1960. The first version was the bluesy version of the song which features here. It was released only in Detroit (hence it is known as the “Detroit Version”), and credited to The Miracles featuring Bill “Smokey” Robinson.

Co-writer Berry Gordy astutely calculated that the song needed a poppy treatment and had The Miracles re-record it, apparently art something like three in the morning, with Gordy himself on piano — and thereby have their big breakthrough hit.

 

I Heard It Through The Grapevine
Gladys Knight believes she has good reason to be pissed off. There Gladys and her Pips had delivered an excellent dance number with I Heard It Through The Grapevine, scoring a US #2 hit in 1967, and Motown’s best-selling single up to then. And yet, a fair number of people will be surprised to know that the song was in fact not a Marvin Gaye original. One has to feel for poor Gladys, but Marvin’s more bluesy version, though unloved by Berry Gordy, is flawless in every way.

The timeline of the song is a little confusing. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, several Motown stars — including  as well as Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and the Isley Brothers — tested for the song before Gladys Knight’s version was approved for release. It was Smokey who recorded it first, with The Miracles, on 16 August 1966. His version stayed in the vaults until after Knight had her hit with it, as did that recorded by Marvin Gaye, whom Whitfield had in mind when he wrote the song. He had to bug Gordy until the owner relented and had the Gladys Knight version released.

A year later Smokey’s version was released as an LP track, on the Special Occasion LP. On the very same day, on 26 August 1968, Gaye’s version was issued, as track 4 on his In The Groove album (later retitled after Grapevine). Having been recorded in February 1967 (before Gladys did her take), it was not supposed to be a single. But radio DJs picked it up and created the demand which forced Motown to issue it on single, on 30 October 1968.

 

Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday / All I Do
Two other songs were recorded before their more famous covers, both by Stevie Wonder, but released later. Written by Ron Miller (who also wrote For Once In My Life) and Bryan Wells, Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday was first recorded by Chris Clark, the white soul singer on the Motown roster, in 1966. Her version didn’t see the light of day until 2005; possibly it was a demo for a sing which would then remain unrecorded for two years.

All I Do Is Think About You went unrecorded even longer. Recorded by Tammi Terrell in 1966, it finally surfaced as All I Do on Stevie Wonder’s 1980 album Hotter Than July. Terrell’s version, and one done around the same time by Brenda Holloway, didn’t get a release until 2002, which is puzzling since it is very good.

For Stevie, one of three co-writers of the song, it wasn’t really a hit either. Which is puzzling since it also is very good.

 

You Got What It Takes
Marv Johnson’s You Got What It Takes was Motown’s first hit — and a case of brazen theft.

The song was written and first recorded in 1958 by blues musician Bobby Parker. It was the b-side of his debut solo single, Blues Get Off My Shoulder. A year later, Berry Gordy took it, literally. He had Marv Johnson record it, and then stole the songwriting credit for himself, with his sister Gwen Gordy (later Fuqua) and Roquel Davis. Poor Bobby Parker, powerless to act against the musical mugging, got nothing from the song, which was a Top 10 hit in both the US and UK.

And the kicker is that Gordy set up Motown and the music publishing wing Jobete because he was sick of getting stuffed by record companies for the work he had done…

As ever, CD-R length, home-handclapped covers, PW in comments…

 

1. Bobby Parker – You Got What It Takes (1958)
The Usurper: Marv Johnson (1959)

2. The Miracles feat. Bill ‘Smokey’ Robinson – Shop Around (Detroit Version) (1960)
The Usurper: The Miracles (1960)

3. The Temptations – Too Busy Thinking About My Baby (1966)
The Usurper: Marvin Gaye (1969)

4. The Isley Brothers – That’s The Way Love Is (1967)
The Usurper: Marvin Gaye (1969); The Temptations (1969)

5. The Miracles – Who’s Lovin’ You (1960)
The Usurper: The Jackson 5 (1969)

6. Johnny & Jackey – Someday We’ll Be Together (1961)
The Usurper: Diana Ross & The Supremes (1969)

7. Dee Dee Warwick – I’m Gonna Make You Love Me (1966)
The Usurper: Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Temptations (1968)

8. Tammi Terrell – All I Do Is Think About You (1965, rel. 2002)
The Usurper: Stevie Wonder (as All I Do, 1980)

9. The Choice 4 – I’m Gonna Walk Away From Love (1975)
The Usurper: David Ruffin (as Walk Away from Love, 1975)

10. The Stylistics – You Are Everything (1971)
The Usurper: Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye (1973)

11. The Stylistics – Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart) (1971)
The Usurper: Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye (1973)

12. Dion – Abraham, Martin & John (1968)
The Usurpers: Marvin Gaye (1970), Tom Clay (1971)

13. The Temptations – War (1970)
The Usurpers: Edwin Starr (1970), Bruce Springsteen (1986)

14. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – Beauty Is Only Skin Deep (1964, rel. 1966)
The Usurper: The Temptations (1966)

15. Nella Dodds – Come See About Me (1964)
The Usurper: The Supremes (1964)

16. Chris Clark – Yester-Me Yester-You Yesterday (1966, rel,. 2005)
The Usurper: Stevie Wonder (1969)

17. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – I Heard It Through The Grapevine (1966, rel. 1968)
The Usurpers: Gladys Knight & The Pips (1967), Marvin Gaye (1968)

18. Jean DuShon – For Once In My Life (1966)
The Usurpers: Tony Bennett (1967), Stevie Wonder (1968)

19. Thelma Houston – Do You Know Where You’re Going To (1973)
The Usurper: Diana Ross (1975, as Theme from ‘Mahogany’)

20. The Undisputed Truth – Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone (1973)
The Usurper: The Temptations (1973)

21. The Temptations – Smiling Faces Sometimes (1971)
The Usurper: The Undisputed Truth (1971)

Bonus Tracks:
Barbara McNair – For Once In My Life (1966)
Gladys Knight & The Pips – I Heard It Through The Grapevine (1967)

GET IT! or HERE!

 

More Originals:
The Originals: The Classics
The Originals: Soul
The Originals: Rock & Roll Years
The Originals: 1960s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1970s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1980s Vol. 1
The Originals: 1990s & 2000s
The Originals: Elvis Presley Edition Vol. 1
The Originals: Elvis Presley Edition Vol. 2
The Originals: Beatles Edition
The Originals: Carpenters Edition
The Originals: Burt Bacharach Edition
The Originals: Schlager Edition
The Originals: : Christmas Edition

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  1. halfhearteddude
    September 19th, 2019 at 08:17 | #1

    PW = amdwhah

  2. puternut
    September 19th, 2019 at 08:46 | #2

    And what about The Four Tops 1970’s ‘A Simple Game’ from the Moody Blues a few years earlier.

    Not sure if its urban myth but I have heard that actually, it’s the Moody Blues playing and singing backup on the recording. That’s why you hear that extra oomph!

    While touring in the UK, the Tops picked up a single that had “A Simple Game” as the B-side. They loved it and contacted the Moodies to ask permission the cover it. The band was so flattered that they asked if they could record it with the Four Tops. It was recorded in England and the Moodie’s producer Tony Clarke did the honors. It was a #3 hit in England.

  3. Brett Alan
    September 19th, 2019 at 18:31 | #3

    There’s a version of “Walk Away From Love” before David Ruffin’s!!!!!! Wow! I love finding the original versions of songs, and this is one of my all-time favorite records. I had no idea!

    There is, however, no mystery as to how Nella Dodds got to hear “Come See About Me”. It was on the Supremes album Where Did Our Love Go. Motown hadn’t released it as a single, so Dodds tried to swoop in (or, more accurately, Wand Records tried to swoop in by having Dodds record it). So Dodds was the first to have it AS A SINGLE, but the Supremes version was released first, and Dodds’ really isn’t the original in any sense. (Similar story to “Top of the World” by the Carpenters–it was an album track only until Lynn Anderson had success with it on the country chart, prompting A&M to put out a single from the Carpenters.)

  4. Dave Berthiaume
    September 19th, 2019 at 21:13 | #4

    Wasn’t that an excellent doc? It was everything I wanted “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown” to be. I presume you were inspired to create today’s post.

  5. Benjamin
    September 20th, 2019 at 03:24 | #5

    Love this collection. I was surprised that the long album version of “Smiling Faces” by the Temptations was included. If I’m not mistaken, there was an edited version released and that’s the version I thought I’d find. The edited version does not do justice to how epic the long version is.

    Thanks again for putting this awesome compilation together.

  6. halfhearteddude
    September 20th, 2019 at 08:58 | #6

    It was so much fun watching that docu. It was, of course, the authorised version, which did not address Gordy’s less attractive sides, but still. The timing of this post was influenced by the docu, but the thing was in the works before (as I promised in The Originals Soul edition a couple of months ago).

  7. Barrie
    September 21st, 2019 at 12:41 | #7

    Excellent article and a great read. Not a great fan of Undisputed Truth apart from their disco hit You+Me=Love

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